By Ximena Ramos Salas, PhD, Director of Research & Policy, Obesity Canada
I have been working in the field of obesity research, education and advocacy for over a decade. In that time, I have seen the field of obesity change significantly. In Canada, the obesity community has come together through Obesity Canada where the perspectives of researchers, health professionals, policy makers and people living with obesity is strengthened not just by numbers but by its very diverse nature. You would think that with over 30,000 members and supporters (from across disciplines, sectors, cultures and geographical regions) coming to consensus on anything would be impossible. However, it all depends on how you look at things. From my perspective, Obesity Canada’s unique value is the contributions of our diverse members and supporters. Our mission to improve the lives of Canadians through research, education and advocacy is what unites us. We all want to see a day when people affected by obesity are understood, respected and living healthy lives.
As a country, we are not doing well when it comes to providing access to evidence-based and person-centered care for individuals living with obesity. Part of the reason for this is that obesity is misunderstood. People with obesity are treated unfairly and this is increasing health and social inequities. But as scientists, health professionals and people affected by obesity we are now better prepared to change the obesity narrative and to eliminate the bias and stigma.
At Obesity Canada, we believe that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. To this end, Obesity Canada works toward reducing weight bias and stigma through research, education and advocacy. We facilitate knowledge exchange regarding prevention, treatment and policy. Last month, I participated in an international meeting on the state of obesity care in Virginia, USA. This three-day meeting was hosted by The Obesity Society.
Reflecting on this meeting, I realize that while progress has been made in the field of obesity, there is still much to do. In order to address inequities for people living with obesity, we need to work together with international scientists, health professionals and individuals living with obesity to translate obesity science, advocate for change, standardize practice and improve quality of care.
The key to changing and even standardizing practice is to establish obesity as a chronic, progressive and relapsing disease in health care systems. Within the obesity community, there is no debate about this anymore. In all the clinical practice guidelines reviewed at this meeting (including the upcoming 2020 Canadian Clinical Practice Guidelines), obesity is treated as a chronic disease. The science backs this up, clinical experts agree and people with obesity support this. We now need health systems to implement this in practice compassionately and consistently. People with obesity deserve better. We must do better!
I would like to thank The Obesity Society for conceptualizing this meeting and for bringing us together to discuss how we can create international action to improve the quality of care for people living with obesity. There will be a publication summarizing the meeting discussions and Obesity Canada will share that as soon as it becomes available. Stay tuned.
Plasticine Labyrinth by Peter Shanks CC by 2.0/Flickr